By Ron Wilson
Huck Boyd Institute
Editor’s Note: Cheryl Unruh is a Pawnee Rock native who graduated from Macksville High School. She wrote for the Larned Tiller & Toiler in high school.
The author reads her work as the audience enjoys her well-written prose. Was this in a coffee shop? Bookstore? Library? No, this particular reading took place in the chamber of the Kansas House of Representatives. Wow. That venue is especially fitting when one learns that this particular writer is a true Kansan — and is creating wonderful columns celebrating our great state.
Cheryl Unruh is a columnist for the Emporia Gazette. Her weekly column and her new book bear the same name: “Flyover People.”
It´s a term for those who populate Kansas, which some east or west coast residents dismissively call “flyover country.” But Cheryl Unruh loves Kansas: its beautiful skies and wide open spaces. She especially loves the people and places of small town Kansas, and sharing their stories with others.
Cheryl grew up in the rural town of Pawnee Rock, population 351 people. Now, that´s rural. Cheryl wrote of her view of her hometown at age 18:
“A dirt-street town with familiar faces, loose dogs and few opportunities.”
But today, she reflects nostalgically on the sense of safety she had as a child in Pawnee Rock, and the joys of small-town living.
Cheryl is a natural-born wordsmith. As a high school student, she wrote about her school for the local newspaper in Larned. Her writing skills were helpful as she followed her older brother to KU, although as a matter of teenage rebellion she refused to major in journalism because he had already done so. She graduated in education and settled in Emporia, but the urge to write continued.
“I always wanted to write a column about Kansas,” Cheryl said. “I pestered the people at The Emporia Gazette until they let me try it.”
On January 28, 2003, her first column ran. Fittingly, it was the day before Kansas Day.
“As a writer, I can´t think of a subject I´d rather cover each week than the great state of Kansas — its small towns, the weather, the people, the landscape,” Cheryl wrote later. “I love this place.”
So Cheryl set out to write a weekly column with its focus on our state.
She wrote, “I call this column “Flyover People” because of my fascination with the sky, the sunsets, the clouds, as well as the planes and travelers that inhabit the air. Our endless sky...belongs to us. It is ever-present, a player in our daily lives.”
Her love for Kansas came through, and her column gained quite a following. Then the column developed into a book.
“In March 2010, it hit me that the Kansas sesquicentennial was coming,” Cheryl said. “What better time to put a Kansas book together.”
Cheryl got in touch with her older brother the journalist, and he helped her assemble some of her favorite essays into a book which was published in August 2010. It is titled “Flyover People — Life on the Ground in a Rectangular State.”
Her stories of life on the ground are, by turns, entertaining, humorous and touching. She writes fascinating tales of small-town Kansas people and her own experiences while growing up there.
“I´m documenting Kansas as it is at this point in time,” Cheryl said. “It´s a living history.”
Cheryl and her husband Dave like to travel and experience those small towns first-hand.
“We´ll get in the car, pick a direction and just go,” Cheryl said. “Every town has something, and each town has its ownpersonality. I can´t wait to see what´s there.”
For more information, go to www.flyoverpeople.net.
And so, each week The Emporia Gazette carries her column, and people are enjoying her book. On June 18, 2011, she presented a reading of her work in the House Chamber of the Kansas Capitol building.
The author concludes her reading as the audience applauds — not in a coffee shop or bookstore, but in the chamber of the Kansas House of Representatives.
How fitting that this author is Cheryl Unruh, who is making a difference by writing so passionately and eloquently about Kansas living. She manages to lift up the Flyover People of Kansas while staying down to earth.
Audio and text files of Kansas Profiles are available at http://www.kansasprofile.com. For information about the Huck Boyd Institute, visit http://www.huckboydinstitute.org.